Ukraine-Russia war: UNSC members urge safe passage for fleeing civilians

"We call for the establishment of a ground-level notification system that will facilitate the safe movement of humanitarian convoys and flights."

 People wait at the train station after fleeing Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Przemysl, Poland, March 7, 2022. (photo credit: Yara Nardi/Reuters)
People wait at the train station after fleeing Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Przemysl, Poland, March 7, 2022.
(photo credit: Yara Nardi/Reuters)

United Nations Security Council members urged Russia to allow safe passage for humanitarian assistance into Ukraine and civilians fleeing its military assault, as the envoy from Kyiv warned of a global crisis in climate change and food security as a result of the war.

“We call for the Russian Federation to agree to and honor in good faith Ukrainian proposals for time-bound humanitarian safe passage in specific, agreed-upon locations,” US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the UNSC in New York. She was one of many ambassadors at the 15-member body which issued such a call at the Monday afternoon meeting. UNSC members France and Mexico have pushed unsuccessfully for a council resolution on the matter.

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The UNSC has not been able to take action on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began close to two weeks ago. Russia is a UNSC member and one of five, which have veto power on the council.

At the UNSC Thomas-Greenfield called for a better communication system to ensure the safety of the humanitarian corridor.

“We call for the establishment of a ground-level notification system that will facilitate the safe movement of humanitarian convoys and flights.

 Ukrainian Ambassador to the United Nations Sergiy Kyslytsya attends a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Threats to International Peace and Security, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in New York City, US, March 7, 2022. (credit: CARLO ALLEGRI/REUTERS) Ukrainian Ambassador to the United Nations Sergiy Kyslytsya attends a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Threats to International Peace and Security, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in New York City, US, March 7, 2022. (credit: CARLO ALLEGRI/REUTERS)

“This is imperative for ensuring [that] humanitarian supplies and commodities can be reliably transported into Ukraine to reach those most in need,” she added.

Thomas-Greenfield spoke of the growing refugee crisis, noting that Polish colleagues had told her that some 100 Ukrainian refugees were entering their country every minute.

“Just do the math,” she said.

She focused particularly on the children, noting that “President [Vladimir] Putin’s war of choice has already turned half a million children into refugees.”

It’s clear that Putin had a plan to “terrorize and control” Ukraine, she said.

“We are concerned that the world needs to be prepared for a very long and very difficult road ahead.”

Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya said that his country’s army was not targeting civilians, explaining that they had been targeted by “Ukrainian radicals” and “neo-Nazis.”

It was these radicals and neo-Nazis, Nebenzya alleged, that were preventing the opening of humanitarian corridors and shooting civilians. Attempts to open humanitarian corridors toward Russia have been rejected by Ukraine, he said, adding that the Ukrainian forces are preventing their own civilians from seeking safety in Russia out of fear that they will tell the truth about what is happening in Ukraine.

After the meeting, British Ambassador to the UN Barbara Woodward told LBC’s Andrew Marr Nebenzya was lying, noting that it was frustrating that Russia can veto resolutions.

“But the fact is that they have to sit there. They are permanent members of the security council and they have to sit and hear 14 versions of the truth against one, I have to say, increasingly threadbare set of lies coming to them from Moscow,” she said.

“They have to hear the Ukrainian representative tell them the story from the ground” and “that is an important part of countering Russian lies about this invasion,” Woodward added.

ALTHOUGH UKRAINE is not one of its 15 members, Ukrainian Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya briefed the Security Council.

Kyslytsya told the UNSC that the only safe routes for civilians that Moscow is willing to consider are ones into Russia or its ally Belarus, but not into any of the other neighboring countries. He warned that those who flee to Russia risk being taken “hostage” or being used as “human shields” by its forces.

Restricting refugee passage “looks especially cynical when European borders are wide open for refugees from Ukraine,” he said.

“The Russian Federation yet again disrupted the opening of humanitarian corridors for the evacuation of the civilian population” and for the delivery of medication and food, Kyslytsya told the UNSC in New York.

Russian troops have opened fire on evacuees and evacuee vehicles and have blown up railways to prevent evacuation by train, he said.

Separately, he warned of the potential for a nuclear disaster at the country’s power plants as well as the already real impact on climate change of the CO² emissions from Russia’s “scorched earth” tactics.

He also spoke of the war’s impact on global food security, given his country’s role in the agricultural supply chain which “protects the world from hunger.”

For example, he said, some 55% of the world’s supply of sunflower oil comes from Ukraine.

UNITED NATIONS Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths also spoke of the secondary global crisis that would occur based on rising food and fuel prices as a result of the war. He specifically mentioned the impact on the Sahel, Yemen, the Horn of Africa, Afghanistan, Madagascar and Lebanon.

Griffiths updated the council on plans for humanitarian relief including in Mariupol, Kharkiv and Kherson. His office, he said, has sent a team to Moscow to work out a system of humanitarian civil-military coordination to allow for the flow of increased civilian aid into the country.

“We have the capacity and the know-how to meet the most urgent needs in Ukraine, if the parties cooperate. But make no mistake: We are unable to meet the needs of civilians today. I hope we will not fail them tomorrow.”

United Nations Children’s Fund executive director Catherine Russell said that “half of the people on the move” fleeing the war are children. “So many children have been deeply traumatized,” Russell said, pointing out that 7.5 million children lived in Ukraine. UNICEF has teams in Ukraine as well as in neighboring countries, including at border crossings, she said.

Unaccompanied refugee minors are particularly at risk, especially for trafficking, Russel said, adding that concern is also high for children with disabilities living in institutions.

“What is happening to children in Ukraine is a moral outrage. Images of a mother and her two children and a friend lying dead in the street hit by a mortar as they tried to flee to safety must shock the conscience of the world,” Russell said.

“We must act to protect children from this brutality,” she said, urging the UNSC to remind all parties to the conflict of their obligation to ensure the safety of humanitarian personnel or equipment.

Russell called for a cease-fire and said that what the children in Ukraine needed most was “peace.”